It is a new era in Cleveland now that Mike Holmgren is the team President. This was made clear by the immediate turnover at quarterback. Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are both gone, replaced by Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy. The Browns offense is a big question mark going into the 2010 season. Delhomme is the presumed starter, but coach Eric Mangini likes to wait to the last possible moment before declaring these decisions. In 11 starts last season, Delhomme had 8 TD passes and 18 interceptions, with 6 fumbles (3 lost). While he may benefit from a change of scenery, his new wide receiver corps is not especially impressive. Mohamed Massaquoi led the group with 34 receptions for 624 yards and three TDs in 2009. Aside from him, no receiver on the team had more than 200 receiving yards. Kick return specialist Josh Cribbs (3 return TDs in 2009) will be used more in the offense this season, and will be expected to provide a spark. Tight end Ben Watson was signed from New England, and will hope he can make a good impression and become a reliable contributor after a relatively uninspiring season for the Patriots.
Former backup running back Jerome Harrison was a nice surprise toward the end of the 2009 season. He had a string of big games, including a 286 yard, 3 TD effort against Kansas City. Harrison will likely share time with rookie Montario Hardesty who was drafted in the second round. Cleveland has a good young offensive line featuring LT Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. The running game should be their strength in 2010, and if McCoy or another QB emerges, it could bode well for Cleveland down the road.
The Browns defense received a nice infusion of talent this offseason. Linebacker Scott Fujita was signed away from New Orleans, while CB Sheldon Brown and LB Chris Gocong were acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. CB Joe Haden was drafted 7th overall, and safety T.J. Ward was taken in the second round. These are all welcome additions, as Cleveland struggled to stop their opponents last year. Only Detroit (392.1) allowed more yards per game than the Browns (389.3). They may face further challenges in 2010 as nose tackle Shaun Rogers is likely to be suspended by the NFL following gun possession charges.
The Browns had 40 sacks in 2009, which was only 8 behind the leader and good for 8th place in the NFL (tied with Washington). Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley led the team with 6.5 sacks, but he was traded to Oakland before the draft. Despite their ability to generate pressure, Cleveland struggled to create turnovers. They tallied only 10 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles (9 recovered), finishing in the bottom five in the league in both categories.
Cleveland’s schedule is not the most difficult on paper. Aside from division opponents and an October 24th match-up against the Super Bowl Champion Saints, their away games are very manageable. The Browns will be looking to build on a strong finish to 2009 where they won 4 in a row, including a 13-6 home victory over the Steelers. The middle of their schedule is brutal, but if they can gain a little confidence from early victories they could surprise some teams. This year is definitely a transitional one in Cleveland, and the big question is who will pass and catch the ball. Holmgren has his work cut out for him, but the team has some talented young players to serve as building blocks for the future.
2010 Schedule: @Tampa Bay, Kansas City, @Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, @Pittsburgh, @New Orleans, Bye, New England, New York Jets, @Jacksonville, Carolina, @Miami, @Buffalo, @Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh
2010 Record Prediction: 4-12 (last in AFC North)
Patriots Angle: The Patriots will find some familiar faces waiting for them in Cleveland when they visit on November 7th. Tight end Ben Watson and special teams ace Ray Ventrone are former players, along with head coach Eric "Mangenius" Mangini, a Bill Belichick protégé-turned-enemy. The Browns have an extra week to prepare as they will be coming off their bye. New England will have played a home game against the Vikings previously, and travel to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night game the next weekend. I expect this to be a hotly contested battle, and one the Patriots should be favored to win. New England has to maintain their focus and make sure they are not looking ahead to their prime time Steelers matchup. With that extra week of preparation under their belts, the Browns will be fresh and should come out swinging.